Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Drückjagd 2020

M and I participated in our third Drückjagd last weekend, again as Treiber (Hemingway would call us “beaters”) and not as Schützen (shooters/hunters). The weather conditions were fine, it had snowed overnight but wasn’t snowing or raining during the hunt, and it was a degree or two above freezing.

Every new Drückjagd yields a new experience, though as Treiber the plan is generally the same: Follow the instructions of the group leader and fight your way through the forest making some noise to drive the animals out of their daytime cover and make your presence known to the hunters in the stands with guns. We spent much of the time on Saturday walking along the side of steep hills, battling our way through thick and thorny blackberry patches, getting smacked in the face by branches, climbing over and under logs, slipping on wet leaves and branches, tripping over loose rocks, blaspheming, and trying to maintain our balance.

I was obnoxiously orange, but by the end of the hunt I was still warm, dry (except for my hands), and uncut by thorns, so forgive me for not caring how I looked. Those clothes are fit for the job!

The Treiberstock (beater's stick) is handy for lots of purposes: poking into places where you’re not sure how deep your next step will be, holding it “at the level of your eyes” to avoid having to fight through branches with your face, using it as a third leg to keep or regain your balance on a steep slope, beating it against trees to make noise, and laying it on a patch of blackberries you have to walk over because you can’t walk around it.

I hoped this photo would show the steepness of
the hill we had to walk along

We learn something with every Drückjagd. This time M and I had walkie talkies on our belts in case we got separated, as has happened on past hunts. That’s damn scary, to be honest, knowing there are hunters with guns all over the place. Every hunter in Germany knows you need to clearly see the animal you are about to shoot, judging its gender, age, and condition before you shoot. This prevents accidentally shooting a Treiber or a hunting dog, but still.

Our group leader this time was a young pup along with his brother. There was also another young guy who is attending a Jagdschule, and an older seasoned hunter, Bruno. After smiling politely a few times behind my Corona mask while we were standing around before the start, I told them I am from the US and “have difficulty with dialect.” That’s code for “I don’t understand a thing you’re saying.” Bruno laughed and said they would give it an effort to speak normal German, and he did. The others, not so much. I seriously did not understand more than about 5% of what they said. I don’t need to be part of the local conversation, so that was no big deal, but after every time it seemed we’d been given an instruction, I had to say to M, “Ok…what?” Bruno helped me with body language – basically just pointing in the direction I needed to go. Good enough!

Someday I'd love to get a photo of the difficult terrain we have to struggle through, but at those moments when I'm fighting Brombeeren (blackberry patches), slippery rocks, or beech thickets, I don't feel like getting out my camera.

About half the number of Treiber and hunters participated this year, and yet more Wildschweine fell than in past years. This year the hunters got 31 Wildschweine, 18 Rehe (roe deer) and four foxes. The Wildschweine are especially important to cull because their population is out of control and the afrikanische Schweinepest (swine flu) has made it to Germany. Bachen (sows) can reproduce before they reach one year old, and each sow can have up to 8 Frischlinge (young'uns). They can cause unbelievable damage to forest floors, fields, and parks, for which the hunter then has to compensate the landowner. Shortly before the hunt I contacted the organizers and placed an order for some cuts of Wildschwein and Reh, which are on our Christmas meal plan!

Rehrücken mit Kräuter-Nusskruste
(venison tenderloin)

Because of Corona there was no celebration afterwards and the organizers couldn’t offer delicious warming Gulasch, bread and beer as he had last year. That was ok, though. We were tired and I was starting to get cold now that we weren’t moving anymore, so we said good-bye to the few people we knew and headed home.

There is something about this that is enjoyable, even though the job of Treiber is not easy! Being a part of a yearly tradition? Getting to know more hunters in the area? The sense of accomplishment having done something difficult outside in the cold without breaking or spraining anything? At any rate, we’re doing another one this weekend. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Expat Adventures continued

Expat Adventures, Ep. #134b

Yesterday I had the little operation to repair my trigger finger. As I wrote in mid-November, I’d injured it 2 months ago while cleaning my gun when I broke M’s carbon Putzstock. The handle snapped off and sliced through my finger. I put some Bepanthen on it and a band-aid, thinking it would heal on its own. The doc diagnosed the resulting wound as an Überbein, which translates, among other things, to “Bible cyst.”

Thanks to my son’s girlfriend, who is studying to become a Physician Assistant, I now know that it got that name because back in the day people used to take care of such cysts by slamming a Bible (the biggest and heaviest book in everyone’s home) on it. PSA: This method is no longer recommended.

I showed up punctually for my “surgery,” and after waiting in the holding pen for two hours, I was shown into the operating room. The doc numbed my finger with a shot of Novacaine on each side and then went for his lunch break while it took effect.

When he returned the finger was deadened, and he started slicing away. He pulled an 8mm piece of the carbon Putzstock out of my finger, and asked if I wanted it back. I said “Yes, actually my husband said I should ask for it, though I think he was joking.”

Nurse: “He’s a Swabian? Of course he wants it back. They’re so sparsam (thrifty), he probably wants it to put the Putzstock back together!”

The doc asked if I need a Krankschreibung - a doctor's note to get out of work. Uhh...for a slightly damaged finger? No. M says Germans love those and doctors offer them freely. These days I only teach one evening a week, so I think I can handle it.

Then the nurse wrapped me up. Goodness gracious!

With Saturday’s Drückjagd looming a day and half away, I asked her what I am allowed to do and not do with that bandage. She said I can do anything, just not let the bandage get wet. Tromping through the forest for 2 ½ hours as a Treiber alternately sweating and getting rained or snowed on shouldn’t be a problem then.

I did go in for a bandage change this morning and got one much more reasonable in size. I spent this afternoon (Friday) experimenting to see what I can accomplish while keeping the thing dry. First things first, I can still do a Falknerknoten (falconer’s knot) with only three good fingers and a thumb. Priorities.

Good thing I won't be shooting tomorrow,
'cuz that's my trigger finger!

I then put on a rubber glove (who knew a year ago how often we’d be glad to have a huge box of single-use rubber gloves in the house?) and taped it with adhesive tape, and was thus able to wash my hair. That works for doing dishes and washing the floor as well. I only had it on for 30 minutes, though, not the 4+ hours I’ll have to keep it dry in the woods tomorrow. I was able to get my Treiber pants and jacket on, and if you’re wondering what would be so hard about that, wrap your index finger in a sock and then get dressed up in winter gear. It’s not that big a deal, but it’s awkward. Happily I discovered that, even with my trigger finger twice its usual size, I can still type relatively normally.

It doesn’t fit into the bright orange Treiber-gloves M bought me for my birthday, so my Schwiegermutter suggested I cover it with a plastic bag and a winter sock, which I just might do!

Incidentally, M has not asked me to do any gun-cleaning since I lost the fight with his carbon Putzstock. So I guess I have a sort of Krankschreibung after all.


One last expat-related note: I am pubicly insured, and I won't see a bill for any of this - 5 doctor's visits including getting stitches out in 10 days and minor surgery. I have no deductible. Medication (anti-biotics & pain killers I didn't need) cost €5 total. In the Homeland I'd have to re-think  Christmas to pay for this. 

For those who are curious, here's the carbon piece, which was lodged between my cuticle and knuckle, next to my undamaged finger for size comparison.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Don't Forget to Breathe!

I have always liked the look and feel of Lederhosen. I don’t mean the kitschig ones you find in Bavarian tourist shops, but serious Lederhosen that are worn for real purposes.

However, he (my son) looked darn cute in these!

Many Jäger and Falkner wear Lederhosen, and when M and I went to die Hubert (an outdoor hunter’s trade fair) a few weeks ago, we found a stand called Only Kumar Leathers. The Lederhosen on display looked so fabulous, and fit the models perfectly, of course. We passed the booth twice and I finally inquired about trying on a pair. Kumar sized me up, grabbed a pair, and pointed me into the changing stall. As I went in he said something to me that sounded like, “If you can’t get them zipped, let me know.” Uhh…Right.

In the changing stall there hung a sheet of instructions in German and in French. It told me, if I can’t get the Lederhosen past my thighs, to wackel my Po and dance around a little. We women have plenty of experience doing this with jeans, so I was undaunted. Suddenly an arm appeared inside the stall attached to another instruction sheet, this one in English. Kumar had overheard M and me speaking English to each other. Nice gesture. A little pulling, a little wackeling, a little more wackeling… Ok! I got them up so that my Po was in the seat of the pants. However, ain’t no way those Hosen are closin’.

I stood there undecided and not a little dejected, loving the feel of the leather but knowing these Lederhosen would not be going home with me. Kumar inquired from the other side of the curtain, “How’s it going?”  I told him they’re on but won’t close. He said, “No, no, we’ll get them closed. Come on out!”

Now, when I tell you these Lederhosen wouldn’t close, I don’t mean it was close. I mean there's no elastic in that waistband and I had a good 6-7 cm of empty space between the button and the button hole.

I opened the curtain, he told me to hold up my sweatshirt, and he reached over, grabbed the open sides of the waist and said, “No problem.” I’m thinking, “YES Problem!!” He told me to suck in, he wrenched the waistline from left and right until…holy cats. He got them closed. What black magic is this?? He told me to zip them up, which I could now do.

Ok, super. Now that I feel and surely look like 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound sack, I start to wonder how long I should wait before I say “Thanks, but no thanks,” wiggle my way out of those pants and flee. Kumar then told me to do 5 knee squats. Are you mad?!?! If I even take a step, the snap is going to fly off and take someone’s eye out! He told me to trust him and do the squats. I did, and nothing broke. Those seams must be sewn with the devil’s sinews.

He told me to sit in the chair. Again, as any woman in tight jeans knows, standing is wiser. By now I began to trust that Kumar does, in fact, know what he’s doing, so I sat down. Still nothing burst. Interesting. Kumar convinced me that Lederhosen have to be tight at first. With wear they mould to your body and shape and end up fitting you like a second skin.

Skipping a bit here, we ordered a pair and they arrived the other day. They came with instructions for putting them on, and this is where it gets funny.

My translation:

So that the Lederhosen fit and sit well for the long haul, they need to be tight at first. If you don’t get the pants over your butt right away, wiggle your hips side to side, pull your gut in, and hold your breath (just like you do when you try on jeans)!

IMPORTANT: When you’ve got the Lederhosen closed, breathe again! If, when putting them on the first time, you did not break into a sweat, you have not found the right size yet! [Note: Apparently I had found the right size.]  Lederhosen will stretch with time in the waist about 2-3 cm and below the waist 3-5 cm. But only when there is tension!

After you’ve got the Lederhosen on, hold the waist snap and do 4 to 5 knee bends and notice how the leather gives. [Not feelin’ that just yet, Kumar.] Keep the Lederhosen on for a while even if you don’t yet feel good in them. When they take on your body temperature and stretch a little, that nice feeling will come by itself.  [Still waiting, Kumar.]


Armed with those instructions, I gave it a whirl. Although I got them over my Po with just a bit of effort, I definitely had to lie flat on the living room floor to let gravity help me get them snapped, hooked and zipped (another trick with which we women are well familiar). Not being a quitter, I eventually succeeded and was even able to get myself off the floor. Knee bends, sitting on the coffee table, walking around, all good. Relaxing on the sofa with a book, not so much.

Hey, they're closed. Gravity be praised.

The second night was more of the same, and I wore them for about an hour including washing the dishes and walking down the basement stairs to get some wine. The third night it was less of a struggle to get them closed, though I still needed the gravity trick. I’m wearing them now as I sit at my desk typing. And every now and then I do remember to breathe!

I do trust Kumar. These Lederhosen are not cheap (good leather never is), and he would not still be in business if he didn’t know what he was doing. They’re still tight, but there’s nothing like the feel of leather and I’m confident I’ll eventually be able to wear these Lederhosen in public.

M ordered a pair of hunter's Lederhosen from a different source at a more reasonable price, and naturally they fit and look great on him. HE doesn't have to lie on the floor to get them closed! According to Kumar and his instructions, though, M's Lederhosen are too big. Time will tell, I guess. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Expat Adventures

 Expat Adventures, Ep. #134

I don't generally go to the doctor unless the pain I'm experiencing has me in tears or I can't walk right. This means I've been to the E.R. or a family doctor - the former resulted in several referrals - twice since moving here eight years ago. I usually say in the U.S. we commonly avoid the doctor - many of us can't afford what it costs - but my daughter has informed me that this is yet another Midwestern thing - that we wait until things are serious because otherwise we feel we're wasting the doctor's time.

However, I messed up my trigger finger while - I kid you not - cleaning my gun. I was shoving a cleaning thingy through the barrel with M's carbon Putzstock (cleaning rod?), which broke at the handle, slicing through my finger and leaving it blackened and meaty. Unpleasant words were used. I've suspected a carbon splinter has been stuck in there since then, but I figured it would probably work its way out like a sliver.

It didn't, and I'm starting to lose part of the nail. So I called a nearby doc, whom I'd visited a few years ago when I had a gammy ankle. I was surprised to get an appointment for the next day (today).

He asked when this happened.

Me: "On October 4th."

Doc (raising an eyebrow): "That was six weeks ago."

Me (thinking, You know about health care in the US? We don't go to the doctor for a flesh wound): "Yes."

Doc (looking at the digit): "Yeah, there's a Fremdkörper (foreign body) in there. When was your last Impfung (vaccination)?"

Me: "Probably when I was five."  (I've never even had a flu shot.)

Doc: "You don't have an Impfpass (vaccination passport/record, which all Germans seem to have)?"

Me: "No, that's not really a thing where I'm from, except for children."

Doc: "Where are you from?"

Me: "The U.S."

Doc (wry grin): "Whom did you vote for?"  (I am not kidding)

Me: "NOT Trump. Most of my family did, though - except for my children."

Doc: "Really?"

Me: "Yep."

Doc (back to the business at hand): "Ok, you'll get a tetanus shot, and then I'll write you a referral to see the surgeon in Horb now."

Me: "Do you mean right now?"

Doc: "Yes, it would be best you go straight there this morning."

Seriously, you wouldn't go
to the doc for that either, would you?

It turns out I should have called first, but I have an appointment for tomorrow morning. The surgeon is apparently going to slice my finger open and dig the carbon piece(s) out. That should be fun.

seemingly random falconry-related photo

When the nurse came in to give me the tetanus shot, she asked if I'm right-handed, which I am. She said then she'll put it in my left shoulder. Hm... When I work with the falconer and his Habicht, the 1-kg bird sits on my Falknerhandschuh on my left hand. If an arm is going to be sore, I don't want it to be my left one. I asked her to stick it in my right arm after all.

I also made an appointment for next week to get my first flu shot. The nurse said I should wait a week after the tetanus shot.

So maybe I'll get my very own Impfpass now! I wonder if I can also find out what blood type I have.

Update (19.11.2020): They x-rayed the finger but nothing showed up. The surgeon says it's a cyst caused by the injury, and he'll numb the finger and cut it out in two weeks (first available appointment). He said I'll be krankgeschrieben (have a sick note) after that and might not be able to work until after Christmas. For a small finger wound? I think that's a bit much. 

P.S. The episode # of my Expat Adventure is totally random.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

I'm a Jungfalknerin!

The short version of this post is: I passed my Falknerprüfung and am now a Jungfalknerin!!

Falkner = Falconer

This has been one hell of a journey, and it's really only just beginning. 

In September 2017 M and I saw our first falconry show at Burg Hohenzollern and thought it was really cool to see hawks and falcons soaring free and returning to the falconer's glove. A month later we went to another one at another Burg and were equally impressed. They had owls as well, and having adopted a love of owls from my Schwiegermutter, we snapped many photos of them. Our third falconry show was at Burg Hohen Neuffen, and that one was our favorite. Music, costumes, big owls, little owls, falcons, hawks, a golden eagle...

The people working with the birds of prey and owls looked like normal people, and I started seriously wondering what I would have to do to work with these birds. This would be my first serious taste of what German bureaucracy has to offer.

Me: "Hey Germany, I'd like to work with birds of prey. How do I do that?" 

Germany: "How do you feel about gutting deer?"

Me: "Wait, what? No...birds of prey. Raptors. Owls."

Germany: "Right. How many different types of plants can you identify by fruit, flower, leaf or seed?"

Me: "No, seriously. BIRDS. Hawks and falcons."

Germany: "Uh-huh. Internal organs of a wild boar? Symptoms of illnesses you need to look out for in wild animals?" 

Me: "Come on, my German is not this bad. Why do you not understand me?"

Germany: "The 11 parts of an egg? Can you list those?"

Me: "Hey! We're getting closer! Wait. There are 11 parts of an egg? I thought there were 3."

Germany: "Legal minimum dimensions of a dog kennel?"

Me: "Oh, FFS. I don't want a DOG, I want a BIRD. Do you mean dimensions of an aviary?"

Germany: "Nope, dog kennel. In some states if you want to hunt with a bird, you need a dog."

By November 2018 I had spoken to some people and learned that I would indeed have to become a hunter first (earn my Jagdschein, or German hunting license), and then I could pursue falconry. I could do the hunting class (170+ hours studying 5 different subjects in comparison to the 10 hours of hunter safety required in Wisconsin) without the shooting bit, but it was recommended to me by two falconers to just go for the full Monty and learn to shoot as well.

In early January 2019 I visited the Landesjagdschule, and a short time later I was registered for the summer course. Those were a grueling three weeks that included many hours of studying at home, and M had to help me so much with the language and understanding guns and German hunting laws that he eventually went for his hunting license as well at a school in Saarland. I delayed my test until early March 2020 to give me the extra study time and passed two of the three parts (written and oral-practical). For the gun handling and shooting I needed more practice and with the help of our great trainers in Stuttgart, I passed that part at the end of July. With that, I became a Jungjägerin! M had passed his whole test in one try in June, so he had become a Jungjäger before I did. On to falconry...

We both signed up for the falconry class at the Jagdschule where M had taken his hunting class. This was a brutal 6 days of class! Eight to nine hours of classroom work followed by 3 hours of reviewing in the evenings every day for 5 days, one day at a Falknerei handling birds and watching a Habicht (Goshawk) hunt crows, and on the seventh day was the test.

At the Falknerei we all practiced tying the Falknerknoten (falconer's knot) with our faces centimeters away from the Weißkopfseeadler's enormous beak, we had Harris Hawks on our gloves, and we flew the Weißkopfseeadler between us a few times. At the end they flew for us a very annoyed Sperbergeier (vulture), answered the rest of our questions, and let us go for our final review.

The Falknerprüfung consists of four subject areas (law, ornithology, practice of falconry, and care of birds, hunting dogs and ferrets) and is oral-practical, which ultimately is four separate interviews where we are asked questions or given tasks such as tying a secure falconer's knot with only one hand. I did very well in two of the subjects: law and ornithology. In the other two I was not impressive, but good enough to not fail. The tough thing is that the test administrators are experts in their fields but not teachers, and we'd been warned that sometimes their questions are phrased rather oddly to the point that the student doesn't get what they're going for. 

During the waiting time, as the 20 of us aspiring falconers waited to hear our fate, we all paced around nervously. Businessmen and -women, 3 foreigners, a zookeeper's assistant, teachers...most well over 30 years old were all shitting ourselves wondering if we'd performed well enough. In the end we had.

In case this all sounds kind of fun and cool, I can assure you it is the most difficult thing I have ever done. As I've written here before, raising my kids was easier. I did that in my native language and there was no test in the end. College finals? Pffst. You read and learn for one semester and take a test. I have never experienced anything like this - as well as the feeling of accomplishment afterwards, which is only just now sinking in.

Now that the theory portion is behind us, we will take some time to gain practical experience and learn from a real falconer (our Lehrprinz!) before we decide about getting a bird of our own. We will eventually build an aviary (according to the dimensions required by the animal protection law of course!) and make or buy the equipment one needs to have a bird of prey. 

For now I'm going to enjoy a few weeks of not having to study, learn and review things like the parts of an egg and a feather, list of new- and old world vultures, weights, wingspans and breeding patterns of birds, which types of birds hunt what type of prey, and relevant parts of 15 different German laws and ordinances. 

It's been quite a ride so far!

a curious Harris Hawk

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Americans on German TV

When the editor of the local newspaper contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I’d like to write a weekly column about US politics from an expat’s point-of-view, I asked my few Facebook friends if they would do it. One commentor replied that he would consider it if the paper would have articles from both sides (Republican and Democrat) to avoid readers thinking the opinions in the article are what most expats think. I answered that I don't know any expats in Germany who are Republicans.

Well, a friend of ours found one. She's a member of "Republicans Abroad" and was an invited guest on the Markus Lanz talk show. She so shocked the host and other guests 45 minutes in (at that moment my jaw dropped so hard I'm lucky it didn't snap off) that he insisted that part of the discussion end because what she’d said was so abysmally below the line of decency that he would not allow that level of discourse to continue. It was clear she had no idea what was objectionable about her statement.

Our friend said that only since watching this can he understand the depth of the division in the US and he had never realized how bad it is. I can verify that the Spaltung in America is indeed this bad between strangers, some friends, and family members, and I really do not see how its citizens can unify and become a cohesive country again. The only thing keeping some semblance of peace is the fact that most Americans do not enjoy talking face-to-face about politics. Keyboard warriors are in abundance, but few are willing to risk actual in-person conversation about anything controversial, especially - but not only - with people whose views differ from their own.

The host told this woman (before she made her most absurd comment) he reproaches her for only one thing: the fact that no matter what topic is brought up, no matter what anyone else on the panel says or asks, she does not even attempt to approach the others or meet them anywhere in the discussion. She shows not the slightest will to acknowledge that the other side might be right or even have a reasonable point. Everyone else is just wrong. She shrugged her shoulders at the more than 200,000 deaths in the US from Covid as a small percentage of people, she blew off so many Americans not having access to affordable health care, she said all men talk like that when asked how, as a woman, she felt about Trump’s “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment, and she said the problem within the black community is that all the fathers have disappeared (no, that was not her most absurd comment). Even at the most outrageous things, she excuses Trump and backs him up rather than even once saying, "Yeah, he didn't handle that very well."  When she had no good excuse for Trump, she employed "Whataboutism," even saying "Look at England..." when the topic was mail-in voting.

This is a well-known talk show. The news occasionally reports on what was said there and I'm actually very surprised I hadn't heard about this particular show since it aired a week ago (M had, however). That woman was presented as representative of Trump supporters and Republicans, and it is no wonder if many Germans find such people batshit crazy.

In contrast to her, when the German guests spoke about their topics (the Covid situation, right-wing extremism, a book written by one of the guests, and anti-Semitism, for instance), they were able to also be critical, meaning show critical thinking, about Germany and the Western world. They sat in such contrast to that American woman, coming across as people who have some depth and have thought deeply about all the topics at hand, including the shit show in the US.

I watched this because I want to know what kind of Americans Germans are seeing and because I converse often with this friend of ours about politics. There's one other American I've seen on talk shows a few times who is a Trump supporter, and he also has parroted the same things Trump wants his supporters to believe. I have yet to see an American liberal/Democrat on a German talk show, in the news, or in the newspaper. When the evening news reports about America, they show the rapturous crowds cheering Trump, maskless fans being interviewed about how great Trump has been for the country, the lines of voters waiting 10 hours to be able to cast their votes, etc. The only mention I've heard of Biden other than clips from the debates is that he is leading in most polls. But the people who support Biden don't make it into the German news. I think we're probably not interesting enough.

By the way, do not believe the polls and do not become complacent.


...but vote only once, either by mail or in person. Do not do both, as #45 advised his fans at a gathering in September.

My first column (in German) was put in front of the paywall and the topic is how I go about absentee voting as an expat from Wisconsin.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Trouble with Melchior

A friend of ours recently told me about some news out of Ulm. The Ulmer Münster is a Protestant minster/cathedral and boasts the tallest church steeple in the world. I’ve climbed it (there is no elevator) plenty of times with our exchange students during the summer exchange. The news is that the figures of the Heilige Drei Könige (wise men) are being removed from the Nativity Scene this year due to controversy over Melchior, the African wise man, and the debate over racism.

Traditionalists, mostly white, will roll their eyes, scoff, and shake their fists in outrage because the Magi belong to the Christmas story as much as Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Some say the wise men - they were not kings, but rather astronomers - are meant to represent Europe, Asia, and Africa. Around the end of the 15th century European artists started depicting Melchior (Americans say it's Balthazar) as a black African. Many have come to consider this more authentic than versions of all the magi being white." In fact, though, all we know from the Bible (Matt 2:1-12) is that the wise men came from "the East."

So why are the Heilige Drei Könige being booted out of the crib in Ulm? Not having interviewed the dean of the Kirchengemeinde and only having read a few articles in German and one badly translated into English about it, I admit this sounded odd. I don’t think it’s racist to depict one magus as having dark skin if we are agreeing he was from Africa. But then I had a look at a photo of the figure in question. It can be found here or here.

The figure was created in 1920 and looks to me like a ridiculous caricature of a black man the likes of which racists of the 20s would find amusing and the rest of us disgusting. I have seen serious and respectful paintings and sculptures of the Heilige Drei Könige, and this is not one of those. 

And what’s with the pretzel? That’s not controversial, it’s just weird. Melchior brought Myrrh (or is it frankincense, who knows when we can’t even agree upon which magi was African?) and a Bavarian pretzel to the Christ Child?

the epiphany blessing for 2020 chalked onto our doorframe
For an explanation of the blessing, see here.

Each year on Dreikönigstag (January 6, the official end of Christmas) children in many towns in southern Germany go from door to door dressed as the magi, recite a poem or sing a song, collect for a children’s charity, write a blessing on the door frame and usually receive fruit and chocolate treats to boost them on their journey. This nice tradition is not without controversy because some church organizations (not the one in our village!) feel it is necessary to put one child in black face to represent Melchior. Never mind that girls often portray the kings and don’t have to bind up their hair and paint on beards to disguise themselves as men. Never mind that we can all pretty much figure out that these children are not really the actual wise men or authentic actors portraying them and don’t need one of them to charcoal his or her face for us to understand who they are supposed to be. 

The tradition continues in many communities, however, and it seems many do not understand that black-facing white children is, to say the least, not appropriate in this day and age. No one can convince me of the necessity for black-facing a child or that the figure of Melchior I saw in that article above was an attempt at an authentic and serious depiction of a wise man from the African continent. 

Personally I think it’s time for white folks to stop excusing black face and vaudeville caricatures of black people as “no big deal.” Look into the origins of this and how it has been used. It is not a gesture of respect or an honoring of African culture or people. It was and is a way of mocking them. I don’t think church groups who organize the children for Dreikönigstag and have black-faced one of the children are intending to mock Melchior or black people in general. I think they do it out of ignorance and a sense of “that’s how we’ve always done it, so what’s wrong with it?” 

It is long past time to stop. 

Admittedly, I have questions.
Which one of you is Caspar?
Where exactly are y'all from?
Which pot holds the frankencense?
What the hell is myrrh?

By the way, I have re-read the only Bible passage in which the wise men are mentioned. We've made several assumptions about this story that have become "Christian tradition," so don't come at me with "But that's what the Bible says!" Matthew never tells us there were three wise men, only that there were three different gifts. The wise men are unnamed, and Matthew only tells us they come from "the East." Most of Africa is west and south of Bethlehem and Jerusalem and even the horn of Africa is more south than east. There's nothing wrong with depictions of Melchior as a wise black man, but there is a whole lot wrong with black-facing children and having a figure that looks like a gollywog in a nativity scene.

Are there more important issues to address regarding racism and its prevalence in our societies, churches, and neighborhoods? Absolutely. But for mercy's sake, people. Some thing are pretty easy and need no debate.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Life Update: October 2020

What a year this has been, eh? To be perfectly honest neither M nor I have minded the 1,5-meter-Abstand (6-feet distance to others), the masks, washing our hands frequently (please tell me this is not new for you either), avoiding large gatherings, or not using public transportation. We're homebodies anyway, and when we choose to be near others it is because we've decided those people or that activity is important enough to us to be there. We haven't seen my Schwiegermutter since Easter, which is extremely unusual for us, but she's been up North with her daughter and grandsons as well as having spent some time in the hospital (non-Covid-related), where we weren't allowed to visit her due to Covid restrictions. We stay in contact by phone or email.

Cases are on the rise again in Germany but some of the restrictions have been eased or lifted since the early days. Masks are still required in all stores and shops Germany-wide as well as when entering public buildings and restaurants. We've been in the Bürgerbüro (citizens advice office) a few times lately, and we can only take off our masks at the desk of the person we've come to see if s/he has a plexiglass divider between us and him/her. No one goes anywhere anymore without a mask, and instead of decorative things hanging from people's rearview mirrors, there are masks.

In the big cities there have been demonstrations against all these measures intended to keep us healthy and out of hospitals, and I will never understand those people. Gives me yet another reason to be glad to have settled in a small community. Honestly, people!

I thought it was high time to write a life update and let my readers know I'm still around, so I'll get on with it.

Jagdschein, WBK und Keilernadel

After passing the third and final part of my Jägerprüfung, I applied for and received 5 weeks later my Jagdschein (hunting license)!! This was quite exciting, especially now that we're both Jungjäger.

With my Jagdschein in my hand I was able to apply for my WBK, or Waffenbesitzkarte (gun license). We already had two Flinten (shotguns), both of which are on M's WBK so they officially belong to him. My WBK was ready within two weeks, just in time to get my Büchse (rifle) properly registered in my name. Our Schießtrainer picked up our Büchsen when he drove to the Heym company in Thüringen with two other students, and we drove to his home that evening to retrieve them. 

Remember when I wrote that after I pass my test I will never shoot again? Yeah, well...that turned out to be untrue. We practice at a shooting range in Stuttgart once or twice a week, and we are seeing some improvement. This has become a skill we want to improve, and perhaps one day we really will go hunting. 

One of the days we were there our Schießtrainer said, "Ami, mach den Keilernadel jetzt." The Keilernadel is a small shooting test one needs to pass each year in order to be eligible to participate in a Drückjagd (driving hunt) as a hunter-shooter. You have to shoot 5 times at the standing boar and 5 times at the running boar both at 50 meters free-handed, and you need to get above a certain score. I passed it on my first try, as did M. Since then we have seen seasoned hunters have a go at the Keilernadel and not pass on their first try. That speaks to what we've heard quite a few times - that Jungjäger (new hunters) are sometimes better shots than seasoned hunters because we've recently had such intense training. 

So according to what's on paper, we are eligible to participate as shooters in a Drückjagd this year. As I've been told, you don't gain experience as a new driver by taking the bus while your car sits in the garage. 


On Tuesday evenings I team-teach with a partner a German class called Deutsch Spezial, which is intended for native speakers and non-native speakers who struggle with reading and writing. There are no tests and there's no textbook - we just use our creativity and ask the students what they'd like help with. We sometimes split into two groups and other times we all work together. It's a small class, intended for no more than 10 participants so we can give them the individual attention they need.

I am still jumping in as a substitute at the local VHS when they need a replacement for the regular teachers, and although I sometimes have to be spontaneous and once last week had to go in blind only knowing which book they were using but not where they were in the book, I have enjoyed it every time. I must admit, I really do love teaching German and especially to adults. I think the students see that I enjoy teaching them, and they seem to enjoy it as well.


On an absolute whim one day after seeing a commercial for the umpteenth time, I signed up for Hello Fresh, the meal ingredient delivery service. I wanted to be forced to try new recipes and I liked the idea of not having to go to the store except for bread and wine. The meals were...fine. I did it for two weeks, listening to M grumble the whole time though he helped me by always doing the meat. We never had that "Wow" feeling one should experience sometimes, and there is way too much plastic since everything they send is pre-measured and packaged separately.

I'm not sorry I tried it, and my curiosity is satisfied. But we don't need to continue it.

Sober October

For the second year in a row M and I are participating in "Sober October." The idea is to give up drinking any alcohol and instead learn something new. We're cheating a bit on the "new" part of learning since what we're learning (see below) isn't exactly new for us. But since everything we didn't know before is certainly new, this works! Admittedly I enjoy a Gläschen Wein in the evenings while reading or watching TV, but I'm finding I'm going to sleep earlier without it. I think this will remain an October tradition for us.


We have a new car. It's a Jaguar I-Pace, and fully electric. They installed a charging station at M's company a few months ago, and since the office is within walking distance of our home, charging is pretty convenient. There are all kinds of pros and cons to electric cars which I'm not going to get into, but for the type of driving we typically do (rarely more than an hour from home and most often less than a 10-minute drive), an electric car works well. 

If you've been a long-time reader you know I have always hated driving here, at least driving more than 10 km from home. However, in the weeks leading up to my shooting test I needed to drive myself to Stuttgart and Esslingen for gun handling training and shooting practice. I was nervous at first, but I had no choice but to do it. Being forced to drive in whatever conditions the Stuttgart Autobahn threw at me turned out to be a good experience. I still don't drive willingly, but I know that I can handle it if I must. All of that driving was in our "old" Audi, but switching to the Jaguar has not been a problem. 


My whole reason for going for my Jagdschein was so that I could then take another class and test to become a Falknerin (falconer). That course begins later this year and lasts eight days, followed immediately by the test. M is doing the class and test with me, so with enough hard work and studying, we will both soon be Jungfalkner!

For several weeks I've been meeting once or twice a week with a Falkner who lives not far from us to study. He's been helping me so much to understand what lies ahead, what having a Beizvogel (hunting bird) entails, important laws to be familiar with, and much more. I've learned the Falknerknoten (falconer's knot, which is tied using only one hand), details about the relevant Greifvögel (birds of prey) and their prey, the latin names of the birds, the special Falknersprache (falconer's language) and Federkunde (feathers).

I need to know from which birds such feathers come,
where the feathers were on the bird, and label the parts of the feather.

People keep asking us what kind of falcon we'll get later, but we're not that far in our plans yet. It probably won't be a falcon at all, because they're not really beginner birds. Perhaps a Habicht (goshawk) or two Harris Hawks. I'd still love to have a Steinkauz or Waldkauz, but we'll see.

Current Events

Not much to say besides "God help us all!" At least not much that's printable. The shit show going on in the US is exhausting to follow. The "debate" was a national humiliation and I am left completely baffled that anyone can still support that insufferable manchild. But support him they do. He's the messiah of the GOP (Grand Ol' Party, or Republicans) and they support him with either their rapturous jubilation or their silent agreement. I'm disgusted. I may not be thrilled with Biden as the only other viable choice, but we need relief and Biden is a decent person who will surround himself with good people, not just loyal bootlickers. He believes in things like science and climate change and heeds the experts. And he will not selfishly endanger everyone around him to satisfy his indefatigable ego. The democrats want the kind of future I want to leave to my children.

I have printed out, completed and asked our Schießtrainer to witness my absentee ballot, and I sent it to Wisconsin - by mail. Now I have to wait and see if it arrives and gets processed. Here's hoping...

I have agreed to write a column for the local paper about US politics from an expat's point-of-view, which is both exciting and a bit scary. My first piece (about absentee voting) will appear in tomorrow's paper!


I've got a new alarm tone on my Handy (cell phone), which makes me smile rather than thinking "damn alarm!" (Not for children's ears!) Someone edited clips from Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying's podcast and turned it into this song, and I begged M to put it on my phone. Now this wakes me up from naps, reminds me it's time to start dinner, and gets me up early when I have to teach. I should probably set a different alarm tone when I'm out of the house! LOL

That's roughly it for now. I hope you are all weathering the pandemic and keeping healthy. Keep your wits about you, practice self-care, and we'll get through this. We've got a ways to go, but let's hang in there!

What have you been up to lately?
Let me know in the comments or share a link to your blog!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

I'm a Jungjägerin!!

On Friday I passed the third and final part of my Jägerprüfung and can now apply for my Jagdschein! I can now call myself a “Jungjägerin,” which in direct translation is “young hunter.” The German concept has nothing to do with age, but rather refers to someone who has passed her test and earned her first Jagdschein. She keeps this name for the first three years of having the Jagdschein. It’s not an official or legal term, just a title used among hunters.

a gift from my dear friend Hedda and the Glücksbringer
from my Falkner-Lehrprinz - a newly molted feather from
his Habicht (hawk), Frieda.
My first attempt at this three-day test was in early March. I did pass the written test and the oral-practical test, but I failed gun handling. My re-take was scheduled for May, but by then we were in full-blown Corona Virus mode and that test was cancelled.

The Waffenhandhabung & Schießen (gun-handling and shooting) test was at a Schießstand near Esslingen, and we – our Schießtrainer (RS), the four of us being tested and our spouses – all met there at 8:00. It was 11:30 before we were called up, so there was a lot of time to pace around being nervous. We all were, including our spouses, who didn’t let their nervousness show until we’d been called in! RS told story after story non-stop, and I knew he was trying to distract us from our nerves.

There were groups from several other Jagschulen there also, and one by one they emerged, some having passed and some having failed. The nice thing about being a non-native speaker is that I can easily block out what others are saying in German. If I’d heard how and why they failed (especially those who’d failed at gun handling), I would have been even more twisted up. I was never worried about the shooting disciplines because RS has been such a great teacher. He and another trainer at the Schießstand had helped us a lot (as in private lessons for several hours!) with gun handling also and we were all ready, but I already knew how quickly one can forget something and fail. The major mistakes are called “K.O.-Fehler,” “K.O.” meaning “knock-out.” An obvious example is if your booger hook is on the bang stick (finger is on the trigger) before you simulate a shot at a deer. To this day I keep my finger far away from ALL triggers, including on the gas pump when I’m picking up the nozzle to fill the tank.

I was the second of our group to be called up, and I entered the room where our six guns were lying on a table hoping I wouldn’t barf on the Prüfers (proctors’) shoes. There are two Prüfer: one gives me instructions while the other takes notes. Prüfer A said to me pleasantly, “So you are interested in hunting” but unfortunately I didn’t hear him well and had to ask him to repeat it. I then answered, “Actually in falconry, but that starts with hunting.” They indicated interest, and Prüfer A said, “Your native language isn’t German, is it?”  I said no, it’s English. He asked if I was able to do the whole test in German, and I affirmed that, adding that I never learned a thing about guns until I moved to Germany and only know the important terms in German.

Ok, so then off we went. Prüfer A wondered aloud which gun we should start with. The test requires that we train with four long guns, all different types, a pistol and a revolver. He said to me, “Should we go on a duck hunt?” Shit. I’ve practiced simulating shooting stationary land animals a lot, but seldom flying birds. I understood his question to mean “Are you planning on going duck hunting in the future” and started to answer, “Actually, I’d rather not. I will probably…” and then it dawned on me that he was politely starting the test. He chooses how we start, not I! So I recovered and said, “But if you say we’re going on a duck hunt, then we will!” 

To cut this short, all four of us passed the Waffenhandhabung (gun handling) with flying colors, to the extent that the Prüfer told RS when he picked up the guns that we were an impressive group - we didn't make a single mistake! We also all passed the three discplines of shooting (all artificial targets!):
  1. Stationary buck at 100 m, seated, rifle resting on wooden brace (3 of 5 Treffer*)
  2. Running boar at 50 m, standing freehand with rifle  (2 of 5 Treffer)
  3. Running Kipphasen (rabbits) at 35 m, standing freehand with shotgun  (5 of 10 Treffer)
*A Treffer is a shot that counts based on the requirements for the test.

We toasted with a Schnäpsle (Ouzo, actually, because the restaurant at the Schießstand is Greek), profusely thanked our fabulous Schießtrainer, I sent a message to literally everyone I know who had wished me luck, and then M and I drove home as two Jungjäger!

Now just like M after he passed his Jägerprüfung in Saarland, RS lets me shoot a higher caliber with one of his guns! M took the photo above today, where I'm shooting at the running Keiler (boar) with the same type of gun I ordered for myself - a Heym SR-21, caliber .308 with a Schalldämpfer (suppressor).

Seriously, folks, this is something I could never have imagined myself doing - and enjoying! - even just a year ago! I genuinely look forward to our hours at the Schießstand, and now that I've passed my test the real learning begins. The goal is no longer to get enough Treffer to pass the test, but rather to learn to shoot well. Well enough, perhaps, to actually go hunting.

So tomorrow I will drive to Freudenstadt to apply for my Jagdschein, we will keep returning to the Schießstand, and also turn our focus at home to Falknerei, since our class starts in three months.

There is much yet to learn!

Update: I applied for my Jagdschein this morning (Monday) and M's was sitting on the clerk's desk (along with a bill for €200). She gave it to me so I was able to hand-deliver it to M on my way home! In about six weeks I should have mine as well.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Ami Gets Her Gun

If you've been following my blog for the past year+ you know that I have been pursuing my Jagdschein (German hunting license) so that I can then pursue my Falknerjagdschein (falconer's license). At the end of this post I'll include some links to earlier parts of this journey for those who want to catch up.

One important update since I last wrote is that M took his Jagdkurs (hunting class) in Saarland as Germany started slowly emerging from the Covid-19 lockdown and passed the whole test on his first go. He applied for his Jagdschein (hunting license) four weeks ago and we're hoping he'll have it sometime in August. If I pass my gun handling & shooting re-take at the end of this month, I'll be able to apply for mine as well.

near Nonnweiler, Saarland
I wanted to write today about our ongoing journey to become hunters and therefore gun owners here in Germany. If you know the previous version of me, you have some idea how absolutely absurd that sounds in my head. I was never a fan of guns and am still not. But I have learned a lot and have lost enough fear to legitimately look forward to our time at the Schießstand (shooting range) on Sundays and Wednesdays. Gun handling and shooting is now a skill I want to keep improving.

How does one go about getting a gun in Germany?

In order to be issued a Waffenbesitzkarte (gun license) in Germany I have to first earn a Jagdschein (hunting license). In order to earn a Jagdschein I have to pass the Jägerprüfung (hunting test). And before I can take the test I have to successfully complete a hunting class.

In order to register to take the Jägerprüfung (hunting test) I needed:
  1. Proof of having successfully completed a Jagdkurs (hunting class - ca. 170 hours)
  2. €350 (for the test - the class costs €2000 - €2500)

The prerequisites for getting a Jagdschein are:
  1. Zeugnis (certificate showing I passed the hunting test)
  2. Jagdhaftpflichtversicherung (liability insurance for hunters, €1 million minimum)
  3. €€ and Passfoto
  4. Extended background check (state does this behind the scenes)

In order to get a Waffenbesitzkarte (gun license) I need to prove or provide:
  1. Zuverlässigkeit (responsibility / trustworthiness)
  2. Persönliche Eignung (mental & physical aptitude)
  3. Sachkunde (knowledge - proven by hunting test certificate)
  4. Bedürfnis (need - proven by possession of a hunting license*)
    *other legitimate reasons: you are a sport shooter or work in security
  5. Minimum of 18 years old
  6. Another extended background check

In case that wasn't clear yet, in Germany you cannot buy a gun just because you want one or because you think you need to "protect your family" from some unknown threat. There is no second amendment in Germany and owning a gun is a privilege, not a right.

One of the things the Bundesverfassungsschutz (German FBI) checks for in the extended background check is that the applicant is not a Reichsbürger or connected to extremist groups.

M is using our Schießtrainer's Heym SR-21 (cal. .308).
This is the rifle I have ordered.

Since M passed his test and has applied for his Jagdschein and I am hopeful of following suit in two weeks, we have ordered two Büchsen (rifles) from the German company Heym. In my case that's a bit like ordering a car before you've passed your driver's test, but we've got a good trainer and I am confident.

In order to legally have guns in the house, we needed to first purchase a Waffenschrank (gun safe). There are strict regulations concerning the resistance grade of the safe, these laws having changed after the school shooting in Winnenden in 2009, in which a 17-year-old got access to his father's guns and killed 15 people.

Once I have my rifle, it must be stored when not in use in this safe and unloaded. Not under the bed, not behind the sofa, not in a closet. At home I can have it out (unloaded!) to clean it or to pack it into a Futteral (locked gun case) to take it to the Schießstand, the Büchsenmacher (gun smith) or to a hunt. It may never be loaded in the house, and it may not be loaded while transporting it in the car. If my Revier (hunting ground) is within walking distance of my house, I still may not load it until I reach the Revier. As our Schießtrainer explained it, our guns are for hunting only and the gun may only be loaded when I am actively engaged in a hunting-related activity.

Who's to know if we keep our gun behind the sofa or if they're loaded? The authorities can show up at any time to check how our guns are being stored. (In Germany there is a national gun registry.) They know how many and which guns we have, and if I show them the safe and one is missing, I have to answer for where it is. If only M has the Jagdschein and WBK, only he may know the combination. If the authorities show up to check and I open the safe for them without having a Jagdschein/WBK, we've broken the law. If they determine that we are not storing our guns according to the law, we do not get a slap on the wrist; we lose our hunting licenses, our gun licenses, and our guns.

I was recently asked by an American what M would do if an intruder broke into our house in the middle of the night while we were sleeping and his gun were handy. It wouldn't be. It would be unloaded in the locked safe in the basement. If we had to call the police because M shot an intruder in our house, during the investigation we would have to answer how one of us was able to get from our bedroom, through the single-story house past the intruder into the basement, unlock the gun safe, load the gun, return upstairs and shoot the guy before he decided he'd better leave.

M has been waiting so far four weeks for his Jagdschein. With the Jagdschein he can pick up the rifles we ordered (they should be ready at the end of August). Within two weeks of possessing the guns he needs to request that a WBK (gun license) be issued in which the rifles are registered. If I have my Jagdschein by then also, then I will request a WBK for myself. An aquaintance of ours has been waiting for his WBK for several months. Anything involving government agencies takes ages here, and Covid-19 has made things even worse.

For anyone who is still reading and would like to know what we ordered, my rifle will be a Heym standard repeating rifle, caliber .308 with a silencer* and a Leica scope.

M has ordered a Heym straight-bolt-action repeating rifle, caliber 8 x 57 IS also with silencer and scope.

*Silencers are legal in most states in Germany including Baden-Württemberg in the interest of hearing protection, but they have to be registered in our WBK.

"Deutlich Luft nach oben!" my Schießtrainer would say.
("Much room for improvement!")
50 meters, freehand, moving target

The Rehbock target isn't moving and I get much better results here.
100 meters, aufgelegt (resting on a brace)

We will continue to spend a good amount of time at the Schießstand before we ever consider actually going hunting with an experienced hunter because we want to be confident we can do this right and Waidgerecht. This thing that I was never against but certain I would never do (hunting) has become something I could consider doing. There is no meat that is more Bio than Wild, and I can imagine cooking (or rather helping M cook) meat from an animal I shot well and field-dressed myself can be a satisfying experience.

Roe buck and yearling season in B-W is
May 1st through January 31.

Previous Posts:
  Jagdschule Week 1 (hunting school)
  Jagdschule Week 2
  Jagdschule Week 3
  Jägerprüfung (hunting test)
  Jägerprüfung result
  First Treibjagd
  Second Treibjagd

Funnily, six years ago the previous anti-gun me wrote a blog post about the topic of guns in my home state of Wisconsin, USA. I know more about the German gun laws now than I did then, so I need to go back and correct a few things!